Modern music, to a large extent, is bullshit. Major labels spend millions on elaborate press campaigns that are forgotten about the minute the album they deal with is out, and there’s more emptiness than ever.
Sure, there’s always been this sort of thing about – people have fucked their way to record deals since Rockabilly, but the internet’s tilted the focus further towards image and away from the music than ever before. Controlled leaks, viral campaigns, false economies on Twitter and Facebook and the rest of it – sure, they can be fun, and there’s no denying that FACT have been suckered into this sort of thing hook, line and sinker, but more than ever, we need throwbacks. People who have no interest in the bullshit, put out records they believe in, and DJ records that they genuinely love. Jack Revill, without sounding too wet, is one of those people.
Glasgow’s a city full of hometown heroes, some of whom get their due, and some of whom don’t. Revill has worked at the city’s Rubadub record store since he was 14, and despite racking up more than enough DJ bookings to make a living, still works for their distribution arm. In 2007, he started Dress 2 Sweat, a vinyl label focussed on Baltimore club music that also gave Rustie, Bok Bok and Piddy Py some of their first releases. The next year, he formed Wireblock with Calum and Neil Morton, and at the end of 2009, both labels coalesced, along with Stuffrecords, to form Numbers.
But the labels don’t seem like the focus here. More than a label boss, Jackmaster is a DJ, and in the tradition of fellow Glaswegians Optimo, he’s a DJ who plays whatever he wants, with zero commitment to what’s “on trend”. On any given night, you could see his sets lean on techno, bassline house, grime, disco or Toto.
Fabric have commissioned him to helm their latest mix CD, and although I’m sure his involvement in Numbers is a big reason for their choice, he hasn’t picked a single record from any of his labels – in fact, there’s very few modern records here at all. In his words, it’s a mix that’s “honest to his musical upbringing”; something more DJs should take note of when they’re trawling Beatport for the latest disposable digital release to start their sets with. But whatever. This is the biggest interview Revill’s given to date, soundtracked by a zip folder of music that’s inspired him. You should’ve skipped my intro about three paragraphs ago to read it.
“I heard this track on the house system and it really blew me away. While it was obviously retro sounding it was like the soundtrack to the year 3000 at the same time. Like music made for robots. The tune was Model 500’s ‘The Chase'”
I feel like there’s a ton to ask ’cause I don’t think you’ve given many in-depth interviews. So let’s start at the beginning. Everyone seems to cite the fact you’ve worked at Rubadub since you were 14 or a similar age. Was that work experience, or what?
“Yeah, it all started as work experience. When I was at school I had a fairly clear notion in my head of wanting to be involved in music. I played in orchestras and stuff on the cello but I had been getting into more and more electronic stuff so when the time came for work experience I thought ‘yeah, I’ll try working in a record shop’.
“Honestly I had never even bought a record in Rubadub at the time I applied to do the thing. Firstly because it was one of these scary record shops, especially when you were that young and smoked a shit load of weed, and secondly because my musical taste was pretty far removed from the stuff they were pushing in the store. I mean I had obvious techno records like ‘Knights of the Jaguar’ but I was more of a house kid, and at the far cheesier end of the spectrum. Loads of French stuff mostly but also your Defected, Subliminal, etc. Those were buy on sight labels for me at that time. So anyway I got this work experience stint and I turned up like two hours late on my first day. I couldn’t believe I had managed to fuck it up. I was shitting myself going in there but they just laughed at me. Anyone who knows me will recognise this as a pretty familiar scenario in my life.
“My first job was to stock-check the whole of the shop floor and arrange every record in its pertaining section into alphabetical order. I think this was a punishment for being late. It was an absolute mission but it probably taught me a great deal because I hadn’t heard of about 99% of the stuff in there. It was daunting but exciting in equal measure.
“A couple of days into the week I heard this track on the house system and it really blew me away. I was so timid then that I almost didn’t even ask what it was but I’m glad I did. It had this incredibly catchy lead melody and sounds which I hadn’t heard in dance music before. I later realised this was because they were all analogue. While it was obviously retro sounding it was like the soundtrack to the year 3000 at the same time. Like music made for robots. The tune was Model 500’s ‘The Chase’ and on the Friday when it came to say goodbye, that record was given to me as a reward for my hours.
“So then I was asked to do a Saturday job, alternating weeks with Calum a.k.a. Spencer. They used to call us the Blazin’ Squad. We got wound up something mental. I managed to get myself fucking sacked after a month because I used to stay out well late every Friday painting graffiti and I didn’t turn up one Saturday morning so I was swiftly replaced. But I wormed my way back in somehow. Again, anyone who knows me will be familiar with this kind of bullshit [laughs].”
“We spent that full summer buying music, chasing girls, smoking weed, taking those decks to house parties and subjecting people to some terrible music.”
How comes you’d been buying records pre-Rubadub? Was it an older brother had decks kind of deal?
“Yeah, it was all Calum really. He was like the guy in the year above me in school who had all the tunes first and would moan at me for buying the same records as him [laughs].
“We became pretty good pals this one summer after my mum passed away. Looking back, this is probably why I was just immersing myself in music at the time. It must have been the summer of 1999. Yeah, it was. I met him one day and he had been record shopping and I thought that was so cool man. So he taught me to DJ up at his house on some old Gemini decks and we spent that full summer buying music, chasing girls, smoking weed, taking those decks to house parties and subjecting people to some terrible music.”
And it was working at Rubadub that first got you into techno?
“Like I said earlier, it all started with Model 500. Then my boss at the time Barrie, who was more like a musical mentor to me when I was young, started passing me other bits like Optic Nerve, UR, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills and all that. Calum and I got really into the more electro influenced stuff too. You know the likes of Drexciya, all the Direct Beat bits, UK guys like Weatherall, Tenniswood and Ed DMX, Booty / Ghetto stuff, Dexter, the Clone label, Italians such as Passarani, Lory D.
“Rubadub was one of these magical places where you’d be handed records that you just didn’t see or hear anywhere else. A store that could shift 100 copies of an obscure as fuck electronica record, just because Martin would play it every week at 69. That rare kind of shop that wouldn’t stock a shit record just because they knew it would sell.
“I’d go in there with all the money I could muster and would never have enough to buy everything I wanted. I didn’t even get paid to work there either because I preferred to work on the rate of 1 free record per hour’s labour. My appetite for music at that point was insatiable.”
Yeah, you must have been fully immersed – you’re in your mid-20s and already running your third label. Did you quit school and go straight to full time there? Just trying to get an idea of how things worked at an early stage.
“Well when I managed to get my job back it was in the wholesale department which was called Blackhole at the time. We’d be getting sent upfront whites of all these US imports and that really blew my mind. These guys were my heroes and I had their records before most people on the planet let alone anyone else my age. We’d buy all the stuff in bulk and sell it over Europe and the UK. Don’t let me kid you on, I was mostly just packing boxes and sweeping floors but to be part of a link in this chain was really exciting for me at the time. Barrie and the guys would go on trips to Detroit and Chicago to find new stuff to bring over. They’d come back with thousands of records bought everywhere from peoples houses to Record Time or Submerge. “This is what I wanna do”, I thought. I left school and enrolled in a music college called SAE doing evening classes while working at Blackhole during the day.
“It was around this time that we also started our first club called Seismic which was one of the kind of precursor to Numbers. None of us were old enough to drink legally and here we were playing Detroit electro to all of our pals in the back room of a late license restaurant.”
Around 2007 you started Dress 2 Sweat, which despite not getting as much press as your other label at that point, Wireblock, still seems to be a real reference point for a lot of people – I know Mosca and Bok Bok particularly revere it, for instance. How and why did you start the label?
“The main reason I started Dress 2 Sweat really was because at that time I wasn’t really into the idea of Final Scratch or Serato or CDJs. I was a hardcore vinyl enthusiast and this “club music” stuff just wasn’t readily enough available on that format. You had Diplo, Scottie B, Ayres, Tittsworth releasing it and that was about it, and you pretty much had to buy all of it from Turntable Lab which was expensive. It was a case of ‘I need to play this stuff and no-one else is gonna put it out so I’ll do it myself’ kind of thing. I was working at a distributor so why not? It was a logical progression. To be in control of every single aspect of your label from the A&R right through to what shops are going to stock it even, was a very privileged and empowered position to be in.
“Rustie was into similar stuff to me at the time and said he had been working on some vaguely Bmore-ish stuff. He sent me this track called ‘Click Clack’ and it was amazing, taking in elements of rave music and Dubstep. He put the Rich Boy ‘Throw Some Ds’ acapella over it and it was even better. It quickly became an anthem for us. So I asked a couple of other guys for tracks via Myspace. This was the time where you could talk to anyone you liked via Myspace and do a fair whack of talent seeking on there too. They sent good stuff and we just pressed it up. I sent copies to all those DJs that really influenced the label and a few of them were really supportive. From there I started to trace back the roots of this music and signed EPs from guys like Rod Lee and Samir. I never got to do anything with DJ Technics. That’s my only regret really.”
“When you get so overly involved in the music scene you kinda tend to dance less. You get to a club and you usually know the promoter or the DJ, and you end up socialising instead of going nuts on the dancefloor. It’s shit actually.”
Linking up with Rustie and Hud Mo seems to have been a big thing for you – they helped Wireblock build a higher profile, and Rustie in particular frequently released through your labels and played at Numbers. Did they help kick things into another gear for you, as far as your labels and Numbers went?
“Yeah, they really did man. It was kinda right place, right time for me in many ways. There was this whole hype growing for what we were doing in Glasgow, mostly because of those two but also because of what we were doing with the club. Because I was quite productive with DJ mixes and stuff, and I was known to be running the labels I was lucky enough to benefit from it. The thing is that there’s so many people in Glasgow who were making this all happen behind the scenes and don’t always get the credit they deserve for it. They know who they are.”
I don’t really know about Club 69, but it seems to have been a big influence on Numbers.
“Yeah, that place was a big inspiration to all of us really. You know that was like our FWD>> or DMZ, except it was all techno music, in the broadest sense. 69 was this basement club underneath a curry house. I was never around in it’s heyday because I was too young but I was as regular as it got and had some of the most magical nights of my life in that wee sweat pit. This is a place where UR would come and play live for 3 hours to 200 people. Where The Black Dog used to play frequently in the 90s, where you could go a whole night without recognising one record, where it could go off just as hard with only 20 people there as it would do 200, just because the music was so incredible. Martin who was one of the founders of 69 and Rubadub is one of the finest selectors in the world in my opinion, easy.”
Has there been anything that’s come close for you since?
“No, never. I guess probably because as great as the music was back then, drugs also played a big part in it. We used to do a lot of Ecstasy back then and those early days of taking pills in clubs were always very intense and memorable experiences. Life changing even, although that sounds really cheesy.
“Related but not pivotal to the drugs, we’d go out and dance for hours on end. When you get so overly involved in the music scene you kinda tend to dance less. You get to a club and you usually know the promoter or the DJ, and you end up socialising instead of going nuts on the dancefloor. It’s shit actually.”
When Numbers became a label as well as a clubnight, that obviously became a whole new phase for you. Was it a hard decision to make – shutting shop on the labels you already owned? Or was it like they’d reached some level of natural conclusion for you?
“It was a really easy decision to make in the end, even though we probably made it difficult for ourselves [laughs].
“It should have happened a lot earlier but I suppose the legacy we built with the previous three labels are what makes Numbers what it is today so had we stifled that too early then it could have gone the other way. It was really Calum [Spencer] who had been pushing for ages that we should all join forces together – Stuffrecords, Wireblock, Dress 2 Sweat – but we just didn’t know how to go about it. It seemed like it would be so messy. After a big session at Bloc festival in 2007-ish, someone realised that the answer had been staring us in the face all this time. Let’s turn Numbers into a label.”
How did you guys set out your approach with Numbers the label? You put out a big variety of stuff last year, and I think I’m right in saying there’s things you signed early on that still haven’t come out. Was it hard to adapt from running a label yourself [or with one other person in Wireblock’s case] to running it with a few of you?
“It has been hard to adapt at times, yeah, but then in other ways we couldn’t have continued to go on the way it did. We would have killed each other because we were all arguing over the same artists and remixers.”
“A classic earns its title for a reason.”
The house and techno music that soundtracked a lot of your formative years seems to have gradually returned more and more to your sets in the last few years – and that’s obviously been made more concrete by the selection on the Fabric CD. Was it a hard decision to go down the route you have done with it?
“Yeah I think the way the scene is going now has been kind to the music I grew up with. I can easily get away with putting that stuff into my sets because of the way we are all shifting towards 4×4 and the way that Swamp is bringing back the electro 808 side of things. These are also reasons why we have the most exciting scene in the world right now I think.
“When I was first asked to do the CD by Shaun and Geoff, I immediately emailed all of my favourite producers and asked them for upfront stuff to include. You mix the CD in January and it doesn’t come out ’til May so it’s really a big ask to be sent stuff that far in advance. For that reason it is hard to come with a fresh mix CD if you’re not making your own music.
“I spoke with David [Pearson Sound] about his process and he told me he was putting it together as a selection of tracks he really hammered over the last year alongside his own stuff, which I thought was a really cool route to go down rather worrying about super upfront dubs. If you do an online mix no one is really interested unless you cram it full of dubs. That doesn’t really give any of the up and coming DJs a chance which is a real shame.
“I was also talking to Richard [from Stuff Records and Numbers] and he pointed out that people probably see me as a party DJ rather than a heads DJ, which is probably right although it sounds like a dirty term to people who take music too seriously. I wanted to make a CD that girls would put on at house parties rather than boys sitting in their bedrooms smoking weed to it, so in the end I kinda went for a mixture of both those guys’ advice.”
Was there anything you wanted to get on the mix but couldn’t? I imagine there’s quite a lot of older artists/labels that it’s now hard to get in touch with.
“Oh man there was a load of stuff. Janet Jackson, Jay-Z, Kraftwerk, all the major label stuff really. There was some old rave and Chicago tracks as well that we couldn’t get in the end. The girl who handled all the licensing said it was the hardest job she’s ever done, or something along those lines. I guess I was fortunate I had inroads with a lot of the labels on the mix otherwise it would have been even harder. Stuff like the DJ Funk track and those UR ones were nailed at the very last minute with a lot of personal emails back and forth. Literally another day and I would have had to take them out and start again.”
“It seems to me like you can’t get dubs unless you are recognised, and you can’t seem to get recognised without the dubs.”
Why do you think you ended up having such a strong ratio of old to new material on it?
“Although I was quite clear with what kind of energy I wanted in the mix, the ratio of new to old stuff just kind of happened. It wasn’t really planned. Once I started dipping into the older bits I couldn’t stop. In a way this process reminded my how much I love tracks like Fix – ‘Flash’ or ‘Jupiter Jazz’ by UR.
“I was aiming to come up with something that was honest to my musical upbringing and where my head is at currently. A little taste of everything that I love. From disco and pop through to UKG and Grime. There are a fair few classics in there. There’s another dirty term but I don’t really care to be honest. A classic earns its title for a reason. Because it’s an incredible tune. And it’s about what you put on either side of it, and how you work it in there with the new stuff. There’s a time and a place for everything and this is something I want to be able to listen to in five years and still enjoy.”
In the press release for the CD you talk about the fact you don’t produce, and that you think there are people making tracks because they want to further their own DJing career. That’s definitely true, but equally, you admit a couple of answers ago that it’s harder for up and coming DJs to stand out unless they’ve got a ton of new tunes. And even with yourself and Ben UFO, who’re pure DJs that don’t currently produce, you did make a decent chunk of your name on the strength of the labels you ran (likewise Brackles and Bok Bok – it wasn’t til their productions/labels got out there that they started becoming bigger names). It seems harder to get recognised as a pure DJ than ever before – do you think it’s gonna continue to swing that way, and do you think future DJs are going to need to be able to multi-task?
“Yeah, I don’t think it will change in the near future. It seems to me like you can’t get dubs unless you are recognised, and you can’t seem to get recognised without the dubs.
“There’s the start your own label option like you mentioned. Or you could be lucky enough to be intrinsically linked to the next new and emerging genre, if anything as globally recognised as dubstep is ever gonna come through the UK in the near future. I’m sure it will eventually but that might take 10 or 15 years. Even still you would probably need to do something quite unique like Oney [Oneman] did with dubstep and garage, and back it up with huge talent like he does. But bags of talent isn’t gonna get you anywhere unless you know people, which is a shame but that’s how it’s always been in this industry.”